US to increase number of anti-ship missiles in Japan, sources say
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will significantly increase its anti-ship missile capabilities in Japan as part of a broader effort to deter China, three U.S. officials told Reuters on Tuesday.
Although the total number of U.S. troops in Japan will not change, the new deployments could be the first in a series of announcements this year on military forces in Asia aimed at making Beijing think twice before initiating any conflict.
The agreement between Japan and the United States, which follows nearly a year of talks, will be announced Wednesday after a meeting in Washington between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and their Japanese counterparts.
Austin will meet Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada on Thursday at the Pentagon, followed by a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday.
The move comes after Japan last month unveiled its biggest military build-up since World War Two - a sweeping, five-year plan that was once unthinkable in the pacifist country but is fueled by concerns about Chinese actions in the region.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday that the Japan-U.S. alliance should be sure to "not harm the interests of third parties, and regional peace and stability."
The anti-ship missiles would arrive in Japan under a revamped Marine Corps regiment of 2,000 troops that will focus on advanced intelligence, surveillance and transportation, the officials said. The move is expected to be completed by 2025.
The officials added that a separate U.S. Army company of about 300 soldiers and 13 vessels would be deployed by this spring to help transport U.S. and Japanese troops and equipment, allowing for the rapid dispersal of forces.
Japan has watched with growing concern China's belligerence toward Taiwan as Beijing seeks to assert its sovereignty claims over the island.
Although Japan and Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China claims as its own, do not have formal diplomatic ties, they have close unofficial relations and share concerns about China's increased military activities.
China staged military drills near Taiwan in August after a visit to Taipei by then-U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, including launching five missiles into the sea close to Okinawa, within Japan's exclusive economic zone.
Japan hosts 18,000 U.S. Marines, the biggest concentration outside the United States. Most of them are in bases on the main Okinawan island, which is part of a chain that stretches along the edge of the East China Sea to within about 100 km (62 miles) of Taiwan.
The large U.S. military presence has fueled local resentment, with Okinawa's government asking other parts of Japan to host some of the force. In total, there are about 54,000 U.S. troops in Japan.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Don Durfee, Leslie Adler and Gerry Doyle)